Building bridges and creating change: Hermien’s story

Hermien Botes is Head of Sustainability Engagement at Anglo American.

International Alert works with Anglo American to incorporate conflict-sensitivity into the company’s operations in fragile environments, and to advocate for more respect for human rights and greater understanding of conflict-sensitivity within the extractive sector. Our joint work addresses areas including the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights, human rights and community engagement in fragile environments, and gender and the mining industry.

How does the work you do contribute to peace?

My role at Anglo American involves engaging with civil society on social and environmental issues, working on human rights policy, and a number of projects related to these topics.

My work with civil society is about building bridges so that we can work together on things that we all care about – healthy environments, thriving communities and accountability. These are in my view the foundations of peace.

One of our projects, called ‘Living with Dignity’, is about playing our part in ensuring that our employees work and live in environments that support dignity. There are many facets to this, but we are starting off with the safety of women and vulnerable groups at our mines and in our mining communities. We’re partnering with International Alert on a series of baseline studies at selected South African operations to understand the operational and community contexts that affect women. A thorough and independent view of the issues will help us construct a strategic response to matters that might arise.

A second project is called ‘Social Licence to Innovate’, through which we are bringing together people from across the business and outside to think through how our innovation programme (together with broader developments linked to the fourth industrial revolution) can benefit all.

Could you describe your typical day at work?

I spend a great deal of time talking to people – inside and outside of my organisation. A lot of what I do is about understanding a broad range of perspectives and translating those into tangible things we can do that are of mutual benefit. I find it is often the case that once different stakeholders really understand each other, they find more common ground than they might have expected.

What role do business/jobs have in helping to build and maintain peace?

Meaningful jobs help create a sense of purpose, security and dignity. When those things are present in people’s lives, a peaceful existence is more likely.

Why are women’s rights important for a mining company to engage with?

Women’s rights are especially important for the mining industry, which remains predominantly male. In South Africa, for example, women were not legally allowed to work underground until 1996. It has taken many years to create the right physical and social conditions for women to thrive in environments designed for men – and there is still much work to do. Our corporate centres are a little more evenly balanced, but the structural inequalities of the past can only be overcome with purposeful efforts to create an inclusive workplace. Diversity, in all its forms, is critical for any business that seeks to thrive in a complex world.

What change would you like to see that would help build equality in your industry?

Senior leadership and technical structures across the industry need to be more diverse. We’ve started the journey at Anglo American to improve our Inclusion and Diversity (I&D) and there is a real appreciation that a healthy mix of people at the top will invariably result in more inclusive decision making.

How have you been changed personally by your work?

My work has given me more confidence. Progress feels slow at times but looking back over many years and seeing that there has been change, has given me the confidence to do more. In addition, Anglo American has a strong culture of safety that I find has very much influenced my personal life.

Do you have any advice for women who are in a similar situation to you, for example wanting to support positive social change through their business?

Positive social change can only ever be good for business, and it doesn’t always have to cost money. Sometimes it is just about introducing different perspectives to the way the company operates.

Lastly, which women inspire you and why?

‘Ordinary’ women inspire me – whether they are dedicated mothers, women in business or contributors to their communities. I find the everyday small but courageous acts of women – particularly those who live in difficult circumstances – inspiring.

Discover more business women building peace

Anglo American were one of the companies that were consulted in the process of creating the ‘Human rights due diligence in conflict-affected settings’ toolkit, which provides guidance to companies working in fragile areas, about possible human rights violations in those contexts.

Download the toolkit